Hilda was puzzled, but she wisely forebore to ask at present for an explanation. "Very well, Gretel, try to walk faster. I saw you upon the mound, some time ago, but I thought you were playing. That is right, keep moving."
All this time the kindhearted girl had been forcing Gretel to walk up and down, supporting her with one arm and, with the other, striving as well as she could to take off her own warm sacque.
Suddenly Gretel suspected her intention.
"Oh, jufvrouw! jufvrouw!" she cried imploringly. "PLEASE never think of such a thing as THAT. Oh! please keep it on, I am burning all over, jufvrouw! I really am burning. Not burning exactly, but pins and needles pricking all over me. Oh, jufvrouw, don't!"
The poor child's dismay was so genuine that Hilda hastened to reassure her.
"Very well, Gretel, move your arms then--so. Why, your cheeks are as pink as roses, already. I think the meester would let you in now, he certainly would. Is your father so very ill?"
"Ah, jufvrouw," cried Gretel, weeping afresh, "he is dying, I think. There are two meesters in with him at this moment, and the mother has scarcely spoken today. Can you hear him moan, jufvrouw?" she added with sudden terror. "The air buzzes so I cannot hear. He may be dead! Oh, I do wish I could hear him!"
Hilda listened. The cottage was very near, but not a sound could be heard.